More mellow mall fare
Enjoyment of the holidays is all about logistics, knowing when to head to the malls, when to retreat, and how to combine trips and tasks to make efficient use of time.
Romano's Macaroni Grill
Ala Moana Center Hookipa Terrace, 4th floor (cross the ramp from Mai Tai Bar) / 356-8300
Service H 1/2
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Cost: About $40 to $50 for two for dinner
Calculating that shoppers get hungry at about 5 p.m., it's best to get to the no-reservations Romano's Macaroni Grill early. We ended up there for dinner at 6 p.m. By then, it's a 20-minute wait for a table.
The holidays are a difficult time for restaurants to open. It's busier than any other time of year, but the revenue is too good to pass up. More quiet time might have been helpful in preparing the staff for the rush. As it is, our waitress promised us some bread, then disappeared for about a half hour, and on checking back twice, still couldn't remember to deliver it. Later, when entrees were slow to arrive, her reasoning was, "The kitchen hates you." Sadly, she wasn't the only staffer who seemed only as sharp as a butter knife.
The good part about opening during the holidays is that patrons are numb from holiday shopping stress, lacking the energy to do much more than sit -- the longer the better. So it all works out.
THE INTERIOR is warm and cozy, done up like an Italian villa in toasty siennas and ochres, with arched doorways and the neo-rustic look of brick and stone. A circular fireplace surrounded by bar seating is a nice touch.
The "Macaroni" in the restaurant's name suggests comfort and family friendly fare, and that's exactly what you get, perfect mall fare. The strongest flavors you'll encounter are garlic and touches of rosemary.
Those coming in just for pupu and drinks might share a pepperoni ($8.99) or BBQ chicken ($9.99) pizza or Romano's sampler ($9.99) featuring standard-issue deep fried mozzarella fritta and calamari, and bruschetta. Here, it's not enough to allow the natural flavor of tomatoes and basil to shine. Basil is scant and compensation comes in the form of salt and plenty of black pepper.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Holiday patrons find relief from the shopping fray with Italian-style comfort food at Romano's Macaroni Grill.
If you have a lot of keiki to feed, you might try the Mama's Trio ($13.99) of lasagna Bolognese, chicken canneloni and chicken parmesan and divide it three ways. It's layered with a mild tomato sauce that heats up nicely the next day.
Similarly mellow was the marsala sauce topping the veal marsala ($14.99) with capellini, Portobello mushroom slices and cloves of roasted garlic.
Lobster lasagna ($18.99) was oozing cheese and even with its combination of shrimp and scallops, with a lobster claw on top, was better in concept than execution. It was recommend-ed by our server. When will I learn their aim is to sell? I may have been better off with my original choice of the lobster ravioli ($15.99).
Not knowing what to expect, I ordered a steak, for insurance. Here, it was the Tuscan rib-eye ($19.99) served with perfectly grilled asparagus. I replaced the garlic mashed potatoes with butternut squash mashed potatoes. The rib-eye turned out to be the best of dishes I tried. And butternut squash mashed that would have been a treat is too sexy for this restaurant after all. It's really the same mashed potatoes dotted with a few cubes of squash.
Meals are heavy so dessert of strawberry zabaglione works best as a refreshing finish.
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
On chilly nights, diners find a bit of warmth sitting around the restaurant's fireplace/bar.